With Drogba and Eto’o as ambassadors, Morocco plays up long-shot 2026 World Cup bid

Morocco believes its fifth bid for the World Cup is 'a candidacy for the whole continent'. (AP)
Updated 23 January 2018
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With Drogba and Eto’o as ambassadors, Morocco plays up long-shot 2026 World Cup bid

CASABLANCA: Morocco is “fully mobilized” for its long-shot bid to host the 2026 World Cup, hoping to be a candidate “for the whole of Africa,” top sports officials said Tuesday.
The kingdom “is not a non-starter — it’s a real candidate,” Moulay Hafid Elalamy said in his first public appearance as chairman of the country’s 2026 bid committee.
“We are going to put in all our energy,” he told a news conference in Casablanca, brushing off criticisms that the campaign had been delayed.
“Our record is and will be irreproachable.”
Morocco’s fifth bid, announced in August, faces fierce competition from a three-nation ticket of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Fouzi Lekjaa, head of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), said he hoped the North African country’s bid would be “a candidacy for the whole continent.”
“Between 1930 to 2030 — 100 years — the African continent has only organized the World Cup once,” Lekjaa said, referring to the 2010 tournament in South Africa, which beat a previous bid by Morocco.
“It should not remain on the margin.”
The committee has enlisted Ivory Coast legend and former Chelsea star Didier Drogba along with Cameroon international striker Samuel Eto’o to promote its bid.

The host will be chosen on Jun. 13, but the way the choice is made marks a change by FIFA, the sport’s world governing body.
The decision used to be made by FIFA’s executive committee, but after suspicions over its selection of Russia and Qatar in December 2010, sparking a scandal that dethroned president Sepp Blatter, the committee was stripped of some powers and renamed the FIFA Council.
The new-look council must rubber-stamp the bids, but the final decision will be taken in a vote of the 211 national federations at a congress in Moscow.
Morocco’s bid committee hope to win support from the 53 members of the Confederation of African Football.
CAF president Ahmad Ahmad has urged the sport’s bodies across the continent to offer “free and massive support” to the kingdom.
The bid committee on Tuesday’s unveiled their leadership team, social media channels and logo: Red leaves on a black and white football surrounding a star that symbolizes “unity and brilliance.”
Responding to a question on human rights, newly added to FIFA’s selection criteria, Elalamy said Morocco had made progress on women’s and family rights.
The kingdom was “one of the safest countries in the world,” he added.
The committee also played up Morocco’s infrastructure, including a high-speed railway, ports, stadiums and hotel capacity.
They did not reveal how much was to be spent on the bid, but said each of the last two bids had cost around $15 million.


Aussie ace Matt Jurman says Slaven Bilic will get Al-Ittihad ‘back where they belong’

Updated 20 October 2018
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Aussie ace Matt Jurman says Slaven Bilic will get Al-Ittihad ‘back where they belong’

  • Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club
  • A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table

KUWAIT CITY: Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club, predicting his new coach can inject some much-needed confidence into the team.
A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table with one draw and four losses from their opening five games.
Ramon Diaz was sacked as coach after just two matches, with Bilic (below) parachuted in three weeks ago to replace the Argentine.
The first game of his reign ended in defeat away to Al-Fateh and on Friday they drew 1-1 at home with Ohod, but Australian Jurman, who moved to Al-Ittihad from Suwon Bluewings in the summer, believes it is only a matter of time before Bilic transforms the club’s fortunes.
“It’s not a situation I’ve seen before, a coach being sacked after only two games,” Jurman told Arab News. “It shows that it is cut-throat here but the players and coaches have to respond positively to that pressure.
“A club the size of Al-Ittihad has to be winning games and I think that Bilic and his coaching staff will take us in the right direction. It’s mentally tough when you keep losing, but we have great players in the team and we know we should be higher than where we are.
“We just need more belief and I certainly feel the new coach will give us that. Then I’m sure we’ll shoot up the table.”
On a personal level, Jurman now has the opportunity to work with a coach who enjoyed a distinguished career playing in his position. An uncompromising center-back, Bilic reached the World Cup semifinals with Croatia in 1998 and also played in the Premier League with Everton and West Ham.
“He’s right up there with the best coaches in the league and of course was a great player,” Jurman said. “Obviously he played in my position so I’m excited to learn from him and I’m sure he can help make me a better player.
“It’s been a difficult start to the season but now we can look forward and I’m sure that the new coach and his staff are going to get us back on track.”
Jurman made a bold career move by deciding to swap Suwon Bluewings for Al-Ittihad in July after a successful 18-month stint in South Korea.
But despite the tough introduction to life in Saudi football, the Australia international insisted he has no regrets.
“It’s been a big change coming to Saudi Arabia. Training at night, the temperatures we’re playing in every week — these things take time to get used to. But it’s a great opportunity to experience a culture I’ve never seen before.
“It would have been easy to stay in Korea but when you get a call saying one of the biggest clubs in the Middle East are interested in you, it’s a no-brainer. I was told about the Pro League expansion, how they wanted more foreigners on each team.
“I knew I was going to play against quality players, quality strikers — I wanted to come and test myself.”
As well as enjoying the challenge on the pitch, Jurman has been particularly impressed by the fans off it, playing in front of some huge crowds at King Abdullah Sports City.
“Al-Ittihad is such a big club and even at our away games, our fans usually outnumber the home team. Seeing that type of support is fantastic. The fans are crazy, the best supporters I’ve seen.
“It seems you can’t go anywhere in Jeddah without finding an Al-Ittihad fan and that’s been eye-opening, to see just how much they love football in Saudi Arabia.”
Jurman was not the only Australian to arrive in Saudi Arabia this summer, with Socceroos goalkeeper Brad Jones moving to Al-Nassr from Feyenoord.
And after fellow Aussie Mark Milligan’s summer departure from Al-Ahli, Jurman has been grateful to have another compatriot to speak to.
“I chatted to Mark after our last game in Russia at the World Cup and he helped me make up my mind to move here. He was living in Jeddah too so it was a real shame that he left soon after. The new coach came in there and that’s how it works sometimes in football.
“Now Brad is here too and that’s been great. We’re always chatting on WhatsApp, talking about life and how we’re settling in. It’s always good to have that kind of support.
“Unfortunately for me, Brad’s team is flying at the moment. But I’m sure that before long we’ll turn things round at Al-Ittihad and then we can both be up there.”